What is Zion and how do we get there? 31 Mormons weigh in: You’ll definitely find your Zion somewhere in here

a-book-of-mormonsA review of A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern-Day Zion

In this useful collection of brief essays, an impressively wide array of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describe what Zion means to them. As the editors write in their introduction, “Forget about glossy Mormon-produced documentaries. Forget about funny Broadway musicals. … Here you will find a potent mixture of everyday and extraordinary Mormons speaking in their own voice about tough issues and hard-won testimonies.”

The range of approaches is wonderfully expansive. Some of the authors speak of how Zion means better inclusion of groups that have historically been under-empowered.
  • Neylan McBain, whose book Women at Church I can’t say enough good things about, writes, “As we stretch toward a new identity of Mormon womanhood, our community craves a vision of how we can honor our priorities without being slaves to their former trappings.”
  • Julie Smith explores the question “does Mormonism oppress women–or liberate them?”, providing a typology for how different women approach their relationship to the Church (the Sariahs, the Abishes, and the Morianton’s maids), useful in thinking of how women with different views can still “all pull together,” as the old hymn suggests.
  • Kalani Tonga invites readers to bring members who feel marginalized (or — for whatever reason — are “not at the table”) into an active embrace, particularly highlighting the challenges of women of color.
  • Ignacio García uses the history of the Church’s engagement with Latino members and Spanish-language units to propose that “Latino Mormonism, even with normal human weaknesses and flaws, offers a way forward.”

Other authors focus on our Zion responsibility to care for the poor. J. David Pulsipher’s powerful essay about how his family learned to find surplus even in times of relative poverty moved my wife and I deeply as we read it. W. Paul Reeve’s essay on how humanitarian work changed his life and his reflections on judging the poor were also thoughtful and instructive.

For those who principally know the Communities of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) through the lens of seminary teachers, John Hamer’s essay on how the Community of Christ seeks to establish peace on earth was eye-opening and inspiring.

Because Zion means different things to different people, not all the essays move every reader. Beyond the half that I strongly enjoyed, I moderately enjoyed most of the others. Only a couple really disagreed with me. Of course, if I’m ever talking to those authors, I can adhere to Molly McLellan Bennion’s wise counsel that “We not only cannot find a Zion in which to isolate ourselves within our comfort zones; we shouldn’t try,” and then I can use Michael Austin’s principles for disagreeing with others in Zion. As Linda Hoffman Kimball wrote, “I have to learn to make room for those whose approach is different from mine — for those whose brains and hearts crave the concrete and defined where mine feasts on paradox and koan.” Both of those approaches are represented in this book — albeit there is more of the latter than the former.

In terms of the pure quality of the writing, Ann Cannon — a columnist with the Salt Lake Tribune — stands out with her essay (which I would re-title “Why I stay”). And let me just add one crotchety note: This volume needed a serious copy edit. We found typos in many of the essays.

There is much to love in this collection. I am a believing member of the Church, and still I struggle internally with various Church stances as well as cultural practices. Within this book are people who think like me and others who don’t. This book fed both my thought and my faith.

Other reviews

13 comments for “What is Zion and how do we get there? 31 Mormons weigh in: You’ll definitely find your Zion somewhere in here

  1. Why is a veritable treasure trove of Mormons in name only… Wonderful! I was just wondering how I could minimize my faith this conference weekend. Thanks for the wonderful suggestions.

  2. Give them a break, laserguy. I don’t think they’re actively trying to minimize faith, they just haven’t figured out secular individualism is a meme.

    Kidding, kidding; I’m only here to talk about concrete paradoxes. “I have to learn to make room for those whose approach is different from mine — for those whose brains and hearts crave the concrete and defined where mine feasts on paradox and koan.” I really like that, this dichotomy of paradox-thinkers and concrete thinkers. Of course she’s implying that concrete thinkers should have room for koan thinkers (or does she think they can? I don’t have ten bucks for a book of essays especially after getting burned by Steven L. Peck), but I would argue that complete discipleship ought to have room for both, and love for both.

    The concrete command that we should have room for paradoxical and non-paradoxical beliefs is paradoxical, and concrete. I love that both ways.

    (but if this really is a book of essays about how, actually, you can be popular in Babylon but hang with the cool Mormons, laserguy is absolutely justified)

  3. Thank you laserguy. Our church is just too diverse and has too many members. Fewer, smaller, narrower visions, please. Thanks so much. Much better now.

  4. Thank you laserguy. Our church is just too great and spacious and has too many tares. Stricter, straiter, narrower visions, please. Thanks so much. Much better now.

  5. Thank you for the review, David. Emily and I really appreciate your considerate and thoughtful feedback.

    laserguy, I have no clue what you’re talking about.

  6. Tracy, I have no idea what he’s talking about either but apparently he believes the book is filled with faith weakening material and is unhappy with Dave’s praise of it. It surprises me he thinks this without having read it but after 12 years of this Mormon blogging stuff, I suppose it shouldn’t.

  7. (but if this really is a book of essays about how, actually, you can be popular in Babylon but hang with the cool Mormons, laserguy is absolutely justified)

    What on earth gave anyone that idea? I’m one of the two editors who pulled this volume together (though I am not the copy-editor, and I share David’s consternation). This was a genuine attempt to show Mormonism is not a monolith, and even within faithful Mormonism, there are a myriad of personal ways to approach that faith. As editors, we specifically asked people with different life experiences to share of themselves, but the compilation is predominantly from faithful, regular Latter-day Saints, who likely represent people you share the pews with on Sunday. We hold callings, we serve our wards and our families, we have FHE and send our children to YM and YW.

  8. In my opinion, that parenthetical is just the standard smear attempt to paint those whom the author considers to be “liberal” Mormons as uncommitted to the cause and unrighteous. Of course it bears no relation to reality, in particular with regard to the specific authors of the book or their content. But, of course, anything short of the Benedict Option or worse is tantamount to trying to “be popular in Babylon” for these types.

  9. Tracy – I never meant to cast doubt on your faithfulness. I just meant that one of the many ways to be a faithful Mormon involves focusing on hot topics within the secular world. In the same way a faithful Mormon could pontificate on the problem of overpopulation in the 1980s, maybe tying it in with stewardship, a faithful Mormon could today focus on identity politics and a certain set of allegedly marginalized voices. You would probably prefer to study Latino Mormonism (and it is interesting, though in my experience the major divides are still economic) than to study anti-vaxxers and herbalists, and that’s fine, but it gives the impression that in another twenty years you will be studying what is popular with the worldly then.

    Oh, but I’d much rather talk about koans. Does anybody want to?

  10. Oh, fine except the popular-with-Babylon stuff always seems to have little snarky comments on the evils of male-only priesthood or how racist every Mormon is. Ragging on that stuff is justified.

  11. Nice review Dave. And Tracy, great volume. Really enjoyed the diversity and the (at times quite provocative) dialogue that was my experience reading it.

Comments are closed.